The Way We Work

There was a time when working in the office was a logistical requirement. There was also a time when making an impact necessitated the strength of an institution — not just your own good ideas.

Today, the way we work and create value has shifted. Several recently published books explore not just what has changed, but how individuals and organizations can adapt and thrive in this new reality:

  • The New World of Work: From the Cube to the Cloud, by Tim Houlne and Terri Maxwell
  • 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, by Nilofer Merchant
  • Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship, by Maynard Webb and Carlye Adler

Change doesn’t always come smoothly, however, and two books set for distribution this fall seem poised to provide insight and action plans straight from the trenches:

  • Remote: Office Not Required, by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried
  • The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work, by Scott Berkun


How Work Has Changed For Individuals and Organizations

Cover of "The New World of Work: From the Cube to the Cloud" By Tim Houlne and Terri Maxwell
The New World of Work: From the Cube to the Cloud
By Tim Houlne and Terri Maxwell

Throughout history, there have been pivotal technology advancements that revolutionized the workforce. In The New World of Work, Tim Houlne and Terri Maxwell define the current movement “from the cube to the cloud” as one of those transformative shifts — one they feel people need to embrace or risk being left behind.

The ones who succeed, they say, will “see the benefit of the change rather than [only] the change itself.”

The New World of Work is a guidebook to help individuals retool their skillsets and compete in the world of online work. It also shows businesses how to win the war for talent and maximize the potential for success through virtual hiring.

In a recent interview with oDesk, Maxwell compared the current situation to that of displaced agricultural workers during the industrial revolution.

“Other than a few rare exceptions, those who refused to embrace technology and instead chose to stay with the farm…also went down with the farm,” she explained.

Houlne and Maxwell say the future workforce will likely be increasingly driven by virtual, contract work. The current work revolution, they believe, is still in its infancy.


Cover of "11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era" By Nilofer Merchant11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era
By Nilofer Merchant

Once, you needed to be part of an institution to have an impact; they held the power, capital, resources and information that enabled scale and competitive advantage.

In 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, Nilofer Merchant describes a new set of rules for business in this new era that empowers the individual.

The social era “starts with a single connected human,” she explained during a recent presentation to Google, “whether or not you belong to an organization or work for an organization [is] pretty much a secondary effect.”

The challenge for individuals, she says, is to think about the value we each bring and how best to direct that energy. “If I’m a lego block,” she continued, “what are the other lego blocks I want to join with so I can start creating value?”

Merchant says that organizations, on the other hand, need to explore ways to engage those connected individuals and ask themselves, “Why are we all together?”

For companies that get it, she wrote on the Harvard Business Review blog, “notions like distributing power to everyone, working in extended community to get things done, or allowing innovation to happen anywhere and everywhere are, well, ridiculously obvious.” Companies that don’t do so, she added, are destined for failure.

For a closer look at this book and Merchant’s theories, check out our recent blog post here.


Cover of "Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship" By Maynard Webb and Carlye AdlerRebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship
By Maynard Webb and Carlye Adler

“When I began my career, everyone ‘went’ to work,” wrote tech industry veteran Maynard Webb in the intro to his rebooting work manifesto.

It was a time, he explained, when work couldn’t logistically take place outside of the office: From access to computer power to paper-based inboxes and no voicemail to capture missed calls, “offices and office hours actually made sense.”

“Now,” he concluded, “it’s an unbelievably outdated concept.”

Written with journalist Carlye Adler, Rebooting Work captures Webb’s belief that traditional models no longer work. Instead, as he told TechCrunch earlier this year, he feels that “everybody needs to realize that their future is in their control.”

We don’t all share a common path to success, however, so Rebooting Work offers advice tailored to four different mindsets:

  • Company Man or Woman
  • CEO of Your Own Destiny
  • Disenchanted Employee
  • Aspiring Entrepreneur

This advice is intended to help each type of person thrive in their life and work. As Webb explained to Forbes, “The framework distinguishes between those who are self-motivated and those who are waiting to be discovered, those who are happy and those who are unfulfilled… It’s designed to help individuals become accountable for their own success.”

Coming Soon: Books Set for Release This Fall

Cover of "Remote: Office Not Required" By David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason FriedRemote: Office Not Required

By David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

“Face time is incredibly important,” David Heinemeier Hansson, a partner at web-based software development firm 37signals, recently told Forbes in an interview about remote work.

At 37signals, he explained, they get together several times a year to see each other in person and have fun. “Because that’s what it’s important for: Having a good time. It’s far less important as a tool of getting things done.”

Jason Fried, one of the co-founders of 37signals, is Hansson’s co-author on Remote: Office Not Required, a book set for release in September 2013.

After years of asking people where they go when they really need to get something done, Fried noticed a pattern. “You almost never hear someone say ‘the office,’” he told the crowd at TEDxMidwest in 2010.

“Businesses are spending all this money on this place called ‘the office,’ and they’re making people go to it all the time. Yet, people don’t do work in the office.”

Remote will explore why more businesses should look at the distributed team model and explain how to establish a remote setup that works.


Cover of "The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work" By Scott BerkunThe Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work
By Scott Berkun

“They do some unusual things [at] most workplaces would never do,” Scott Berkun wrote on his blog when he announced that he was well into his book — since named The Year Without Pants — about his time with the 100% distributed company.

Scheduled for release in September 2013, The Year Without Pants will explore his experiences with, both good and bad, but also look at how the workplace has changed.

“One theme of my upcoming book is questioning aging work practices,” he wrote, citing a list that includes everything from dress codes to measurement by time, not performance.

While Berkun isn’t all for abandoning more traditional practices that work, he says it’s important to look at what helps each individual perform. “Any unilateral decision by an executive about how creative people work is a mistake,” he blogged about Yahoo!’s decision to eliminate remote work.

“Not all remote work plans are managed well,” he continued, implying that there’s much to be learned from companies that are successfully distributed. “Remote work as a concept is probably not the problem.”

What recently published books about the future of work have landed on your bookshelf lately? Are there any you would recommend? Tell us about books that have caught your attention in the comments section below.

With contributions from .

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. She owns Nimbyist Communications and helps non-profits, startups, and small business owners get their content marketing on track.